Sunday, December 26, 2021

Come Follow Me: Moses 1, Abraham 3

 Come Follow Me: Moses 1, Abraham 3



This year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will focus its Sunday School and home scripture study on the Old Testament. These lessons will also include additional revelation given to Joseph Smith regarding  early prophets, such as Moses and Abraham. These two chapters in the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham help us understand things that occurred prior to the Creation, as recorded in Genesis 1 and 2.

Some of the material I'll use in these classes will come from previous Gospel Doctrine class lessons I did in 2010, etc. I will add other things that I've learned through my studies over the past 12 years.

Moses 1

- Background
The children of Israel were in bondage to the Egyptians. After the death of Joseph, son of Jacob, Israel had been without a prophet for centuries. While slavery kept them separated from their captors, they were heavily influenced by Egyptian culture and religion. Moses was raised in Egyptian tradition, fleeing the land for killing an Egyptian soldier when he was 40 years old.

For the next several decades, Moses would live as a Midianite. In receiving his prophetic call and leading Israel to freedom, Moses would only see God in a burning bush. His understanding of the gospel was limited, because he did not know of the Creation story, nor of Adam and Eve. Nor did Moses yet understand man's true nature and relationship with God.

-Sacred Space
It is in this context that Moses is "caught up into an exceedingly high mountain" (Moses 1:1). Any time in scripture a prophet is on a mountain, you can be assured he is going to have a sacred experience. The mountain represents sacred space, a temple setting, the Mountain or House of God, where man can ascend into God's presence. This is exactly what happens with Moses. In verse 2, he "saw God face to face."

This is a new experience for the prophet. Prior to this event he has only seen a burning bush. Now he must be transfigured, so Moses "could endure His presence" (vs 2).

Jehovah speaks to man face to face.  Moses is brought back into the presence of God/Christ in what would resemble the Latter-day Saint temple endowment today - the focus of the endowment is to bring people back into God's presence (also see D&C 84:6-25).

In verse 3-6, God establishes what the relationship is between the two. He is Endless, while Moses is his son and in "similitude of the Only Begotten." Moses has not anticipated the extent of God's creations. Previously, Hebrews believed that Yahweh/Jehovah was the God of the nation of Israel, but no more. Suddenly, Moses now has to take into account that Yahweh is Creator of all things on earth and in the cosmos. When God's Presence (Shekinah, a name for Yahweh - Angel of the Lord's Presence) departs from Moses, he realizes how little man is. Moses has seen the splendors of Egypt as a stepson of Pharaoh. Now he sees how little the pyramids and statues really are when compared to God's great creations (vs 10).

Moses' experience is similar to Joseph Smith's First Vision, where after seeing the divine, he is left with no strength. Obviously, being transfigured takes a lot out of a physical body.

Satan then shows up. He demands Moses to worship him, as Lucifer claims to be the Only Begotten. Satan refuses to believe he is not the real Messiah, and steps in to offer his version of salvation to Moses. Imagine what would have happened to the thousands of Israelites had their prophet turned to worshiping a new god. But Moses can contrast the experiences. He knew what it was like to be transfigured, and that while he recognizes Satan is powerful, it doesn't compare to God's power. It requires 4 times for Moses to get Lucifer to depart, and then only by calling upon the name of the Only Begotten to do it.

Interestingly, Moses anticipates seeing God again: " I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me" (vs 18). Moses seeks information from God. I wonder how often we lose out on receiving personal revelation, because like Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon, we don't bother asking God nor seek his answers.

Moses returns into God's presence, and God begins answering his queries, showing him the creation of the earth and the inhabitants upon it. Then God explains to Moses that he has other creations and worlds. He introduces the concept of Adam as first man, and begins the introduction of the following chapters. Moses begins his own temple endowment experience.

God explains his work, which is tied to the creations of the many worlds and heavens: "this is my work and glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (vs 39). Moses had realized how little man is, and now sees that all this giant work was done FOR man. Key parts of man's immortality and eternal life would be accomplished by the Only Begotten. But the Creation, which will be discussed over the next few weeks in these lessons, will show that without the Creation and the Fall, there would be little need for an atonement.

All of this sets up a real understanding of Creation. It has everything to do with relationship. God called Moses his son, while Satan tried to change the relationship: "Son of man, worship me!"

God invites us to become part of his family. Satan seeks to control us by establishing an entirely different relationship: sovereign and servant. In his view, we are not children of God, but are just mortals, descended only from other mortals, below the angels.

So, when we view the story of Creation, which we will in detail in later lessons, we will find that it may not be a literal, historical story. Rather, it will display God's work and glory, perhaps in a symbolic way, to restore the ancient parent/child relationship we once had with God in the Premortal World.

Abraham 3


Abraham prepares to enter into Egypt during a severe drought. The Lord will command him to tell the Egyptians that Sara is his sister (a true statement, as she was his niece, which in those days was considered a sister). Sara will go through a test of faith, being approached on various occasions by Pharaoh, but kept safe by God's power, until it is revealed to Pharaoh what Sara's true nature is. As an aside, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians.

Abraham proved him self worthy of God by his faithfulness when the Priest of On attempted to sacrifice him to the Egyptian gods. Though far outside of Egypt, the reach of Pharaoh extended as far as Ur of the Chaldees. Abraham not only prays for God to save him, he insists on being saved by Yahweh himself (represented in papyri fragment #1 as the bird, according to Joseph Smith). Yahweh or Jehovah is the Angel of the Lord's Presence, the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The Lord prepared Abraham for his entrance into Egypt by teaching him about the Creation of the heavens and of the premortal Great Council in Heaven. This becomes Abraham's endowment as he enters the presence of the Lord. It also explained to him his relationship to God. In this vision, he would see his place in the premortal existence, while the wicked priest would symbolize Moses' Satan, seeking to slay Abraham for refusing to accept a new relationship as a servant to Pharaoh and his gods.

What is a Urim and Thummim?

In verse #1, Abraham begins by stating he has possession of a Urim and Thummim. Literally, Urim and Thummim means "Lights and Innocence" or "Lights and Perfection."

The Book of Mormon tells us that the Urim and Thummim, or Interpreters, are given for the translation of ancient records. Also,

" man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet. And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God." (Mosiah 8:13-16)
Doctrine and Covenants 130 tells us that the earth will become a Urim and Thummim through which those who look into it will see the truths of the lower kingdoms. Each celestial being will also be given a personal Urim and Thummim (white stone) through which they can see the truths of the higher kingdom. This is accessed through the new name, which is the "keyword" or password. Joseph Smith, in essence, described the first computer (including password protection, and access to the heavenly Internet).

Kolob and Einstein

We must realize that the modern concept of the cosmos did not come about until after Joseph Smith's day. Edwin Hubble announced in 1925 the concept of more than one galaxy. To have such a concept of planets/stars "ruling" over other planets and stars was not understood in Joseph Smith's day. In his day, the galaxy was not well understood. Distances were not known, as the concept of red shift/blue shift was not discovered by Doppler until 1842. This concept was first used in 1848 to determine the movement of stars. The earliest use of the term "red shift" in print came in 1908, and it was in the 20th century that red shift became very useful in understanding distances and time in space.

Abraham (and Joseph Smith) foresaw the structure of the universe. Planets are governed by planets/stars in higher orbits around other planets/stars. For example, our planets rotate around our sun, which rotates around the Milky Way Galaxy. Interestingly, Einstein taught that time and space are the same, and that the speed of an item changes time (the closer to light speed an item travels, the slower time goes). So we find out from Abraham that Kolob has a different "reckoning" than earth does. Kolob is NOT where God dwells, as some anti-Mormon websites claim, but it is a governing planet near God's heaven.

Comparing our earth's time with Kolob, we see that one day on Kolob is equal to 1000 years on earth. Kolob, then, must be traveling nearer to the speed of light than the earth is. The earth travels 67,000 mph, while the speed of light is almost 670 million mph. Given that such concepts were discovered in the early 20th century, it is then amazing to find such concepts referenced by Abraham almost a century before by Joseph Smith:

"Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God" (vs 9). We can then possibly theorize that God dwells at or near the speed of light.

Interestingly, the moon is considered to be on a higher plane of existence than the earth. This may partially be due to the ancient belief of the earth being at the center of the universe. Whether literally or figuratively believed, it helps to create an understanding of the cosmos well beyond what the Egyptians understood.

Abraham's Endowment

This is Abraham's theophany (seeing God face to face) and endowment. He approaches the throne of God after seeing the cosmos/heavens. Many religions do not understand this, but the ancients viewed the cosmos as a literal part of the heavens. Whether we read 1 Enoch or other ancient cosmological/theophanies, most show the planets and constellations as a portion of the literal heavens of God. This fits in with LDS cosmology, where we believe the earth will some day become a part of the Celestial realm, while other planets will be in the lower telestial or terrestrial realms.

To see God "face to face" is the highest of all revelations. Moses 1 explained the prophet's theophany and the beginning of his endowment, and we see this with Abraham, also. Both endowments include the creation of the cosmos and of the earth. Today, Latter-day Saints practice entering into God's presence in the Celestial Room of the temple; preparing us for the day when we will have this literal  experience.

Part of Abraham's endowment is the promise and covenant made to him. God promised in the Abrahamic covenant: "I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds" (vs 14). Abraham is receiving God's greatest promise, to have eternal seed and increase. Again, the relationships between God and man, as well as that between men, is established.

In the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (D&C 84:33-42), we read how we tie in to the Abrahamic covenant: "They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God." Those who receive the servants of God, those holding the priesthood authority, receive Christ. And those who receive Christ will be presented before the Father by Jesus. At that point, God will give all he has to the faithful: which includes godhood and eternal increase. As God has created worlds without number, so shall we. All of this as we continue our relationship as children of God.

Cosmological Structure

As mentioned before, Abraham is shown the structure of the galaxies. Planets are governed by planets/stars, which in turn are governed by other planets/stars, until you get near the throne of God. In our solar system, 8 planets, several dwarf planets, comets and asteroids all revolve around the Sun. Our Sun revolves around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, consisting of about 400 billion stars. Our solar system is situated on the outer edge of one of the galaxy's arms (the Orion Arm). The Milky Way Galaxy belongs to a "local group" or cluster of galaxies that includes the even larger Andromeda galaxy. Galaxies move about the expanding universe. At the center of most galaxies is a quasar or black hole (a singularity in time/space), around which all other planets and stars in the galaxy revolve.

Along the entire way, we see structure that organizes stars and planets. And this structure is also described to Abraham:
"If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me.
"Now, if there be two things, one above the other, and the moon be above the earth, then it may be that a planet or a star may exist above it; and there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it." (Abr 3:16-17)
Not only are the cosmos so arranged, but so are spirits:
"And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all." (vs 19)

The glory of God is intelligence. (D&C 93)  The term "intelligence" takes on a few meanings in Latter-day Saint parlance.

Intelligence = Knowledge. We cannot be saved in ignorance. We can only take a few things with us after we leave this world, and one of them is the knowledge we gain. We learn in D&C 130 that whatever individual gains more intelligence in this life than another will have that much more the advantage in the next life. If we look at this life as just one part of an eternal living, we can see that the person who takes the time to learn in this life will have less to learn in the Spirit World, and possibly also in the heavens.

Intelligence = Spirit. Abraham 3 describes that God is surrounded by the "organized" intelligences, and calls them spirits.

There are some (including me) who hold to apostle Orson Pratt's theory that intelligence is matter that is filled with the light of Christ, which light fills all of space. Particles are filled with intelligence. An atom of hydrogen and an atom of oxygen each have special properties, qualities and capabilities. Yet, if you combine hydrogen and oxygen together, you get H2O/water, which has all new properties that neither of the individual atoms had alone. Thus, God organizes/forms things with the power of the Light of Christ, giving greater intelligence to matter. Eventually, intelligence can be formed into sentient and individualized beings called spirits. Spirits can then be organized on higher levels, first with a mortal body, then later with an immortal body. With this theory, we can see how Creation and relationships between God and his creations are so very important, even crucial to the Lord.

Intelligence = Light and Truth. In D&C 93 and 88, we read that intelligence is light and truth, and that intelligence cannot be created nor unmade. The Light of Christ fills all of space, giving order to all things. Through the light of Christ, the planets remain in their orbits and natural law works as it does. We exist as sentient beings because of this light. The Savior stated that "the light of the body is the eye, if, therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, they whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23 and 3 Ne 13:22-23). To Joseph Smith, the Lord explained, "And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings....And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things" (D&C 88:11, 67).

In other words, there is a big connection and relationship on how the stars, planets, and we are governed and given power/life.

The Great Council of Heaven

Prior to the physical Creation, God created all things spiritually. This includes creating our spirits from "organized intelligence."He is truly the "Father of our spirits" (Hebrews 12:9). In time, our spirits sought greater growth, which required physical abilities. Hence, there was a gathering to plan our earthly progress. The Lord showed Abraham that he stood in the midst of the "noble and great" spirits/organized intelligences. This suggests that not all spirits were involved in the planning of the earth, but Abraham was.

In early Jewish and Semitic beliefs is found the concept of the Divine Council. It is found scattered throughout the Old Testament. There are many great articles on the Internet concerning the Divine Council. It was headed up by Elohim/El Elyon (God Almighty). He had many divine sons, including Jehovah/Yahweh. Elohim divided up the earth among his sons, so that they could rule and reign over various nations. Jehovah was given Israel, the crown jewel of the nations, as his inheritance.

The traditions show that not all the divine sons were as true and powerful as Jehovah, but some attempted to overthrow one another. For example, in the land of Canaan, Yam was overthrown by Baal. The Lord Jehovah told Israel when this occurred that "before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me" (Isaiah 43:10). He was their first and only God, Alpha and Omega. But he did have challenges. In Job chapter 1, we see that Satan (literally, "Adversary") and other sons of God went to challenge him and his authority over Israel. How best to do that? Challenge his truest believer in Israel: Job.

God's Plan of Salvation

In Abraham's vision of the Divine Council, we see that the earth was planned and organized. Heavenly Father's plan for his spirit children was set forth: all will come to the formed earth and be tried to see if they will be faithful. Only one plan was ever really considered. The only issue brought up is: "Whom shall I send?" Or, who shall be the Savior of mankind? (compare with Isaiah 6:1-8_

Two individuals offer their services. The first, "like unto the Son of Man", or Jesus Christ/Jehovah volunteers. Lucifer also volunteers. God the Father selects Jesus. There is no voting for plans or Saviors. Instead, spirit children of God voted with their feet. Lucifer and those who followed him chose rebellion over obedience. Revelation 12:4 tells us that the dragon "drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." John continues: 

"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
"And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
"And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Rev 14:4-9)

Satan and his devils were spirit children of God, who lost their inheritance through rebellion. Some would say that Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. This is not true. At one point, Jesus and Lucifer were created by God as His spirit children. But when Lucifer chose to
rebel, he lost his place as a son of God, shunned and cast out for eternity. All familial relations were cut off for eternity. This is why Satan seeks to twist our understanding of relationship with God and each other, so he can dupe us into thinking less of ourselves, of each other and of God - and more of Satan himself.

In detailing God's plan, Jesus told the spirits that 

"We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
"And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever" (Abr 3:24-25).

The First Estate is the premortal existence. Those who accepted God's plan and Christ as Savior kept their first estate. However, Satan "was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him" (Abr 3:28). They will never have a real earth experience, gain a body, have real agency and choice, nor have the opportunity to gain all God's blessings in the eternities. Jesus explained that those who kept their second estate, or earth life, would have eternal blessings. For those who kept the first estate of premortal existence, they maintained the relationship between themselves and God.

This has two components to it. First, those in this life who accept Christ as Savior, regardless of their level of faithfulness, will eventually receive a kingdom of Glory. There are three main levels of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-4, D&C 76). Prior to resurrection, either in mortality, or during the period prior to resurrection called the Spirit World, a person has to accept the atonement of Christ, in order to be saved and receive a kingdom of glory. The level of faith and repentance given by a person will determine the level of glory one receives. The highest level of heaven, the Celestial Kingdom, is the second component, wherein a person can receive a fulness of God's glory, called exaltation or eternal life. This is given to those who are valiant in their testimony of Jesus Christ (D&C 76). They embrace the fullness of the relationship with God. Even as God, Christ and the Holy Ghost are intimately bonded in love within the Godhead/Trinity, so we can equally bonded to them and each other in an eternal Celestial relationship of love.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Come Follow Me: The Family, a Proclamation to the World

 Come Follow Me: The Family, a Proclamation to the World


The United Nations celebrated its "Year of the Family" in 1994. Partially in response to this declaration, the Church provided its own Proclamation to the World. Again, as with previous events, the Lord gave foretold and established his doctrine prior to Satan unleashing tribulation on the world.

The prophets have long warned of different struggles and tragedies, helping us to prepare for such things. Family Home Evening was officially established by President David O. McKay in the 1950s, in a time when most families did not yet have a television, and the air time was limited. How could one imagine that the world would change over the next generation or two, ripping the traditional family apart?

In October of 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke in  General Conference regarding an upcoming financial crisis. He shared the story of Joseph in Egypt, with the seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. While Pres Hinckley did not feel we would experience another Great Depression, he reminded us of the struggles during the 1930s for all the world. He encouraged the saints to get out of debt, own a modest home, put money in the bank, and get one's food storage. Ten years later, in 2008, the Great Recession started.

Recently, Pres Nelson announced new objectives, such as Home centered/Church supported gospel study, Come Follow Me, etc. Within just a couple years, we were hit with the Covid pandemic, forcing people throughout the world to be locked down in their homes for months.

Such foresight, given via God's revelatory process, happens time and again. For those who listen, such can help us avoid many of the disasters of the last days.

And so it is with the Family, a Proclamation to the World. It was given in a time when families were still traditional and generally doing well. However, we have since seen the family attacked from all sides. Many wish to reduce the ideal family concept to just one of many equal options. Gender is now questioned, with new genders being invented as often as an individual chooses their own identity. And there is one key thing of most import that the world seeks to destroy:

Our eternal identity.

This has been an issue since the earliest times.  In chapter one of the Book of Moses, God appears to Moses and tells him, 

"And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

"And, behold, thou art my son...." (Moses 1:3-4)

Here, God first establishes his credentials to be God, then he establishes the family relationship between God and man. We are his children.

However, when Satan appeared, he offered a different relationship. 

"And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me." (vs 12)
Rather than an eternal and celestial relationship, Satan puts man as a worldly creation with no certain relationship to anything but his own mortal parents. In doing so, Satan can then mandate that humans, not connected to God in any relationship, must worship him instead.

Moses was able to detect the deception, and spoke out.

"And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?" (vs 13)

As with Moses' experience then, today Satan continues to deceive the world. He confuses people as to their divine origins and celestial destiny. Once that divine relationship with God is removed, anything can replace it: including dysfunctional families, gender dysphoria, sex outside of marriage, adultery, etc.

Now, I do believe that there are both genetic and societal (nature and nurture) issues regarding many of these things. Many people have a natural tendency towards sexual desires, whether heterosexual or homosexual tendencies. The issue isn't about denying those feelings, but to recognize the true relationship with God and those around us. In doing so, we overcome natural desire with celestial love and charity. Replacing the natural man with the spiritual man is not an easy thing to do. For many, it is a life long process, which may include major choices, such as remaining chaste throughout life.

When Joseph Smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail and the saints were being driven out of Missouri, he prayed to God, asking when they would be delivered from their trials. God's response was that the trials were but a moment, and then they would be vastly rewarded for their patience and endurance.

Such an answer applies today for those who struggle with sexual and gender confusion. Whether one has struggles wit pornography, sexual desire, gender dysphoria, same sex attraction, etc., the answer is all the same: we are children of God and those around us are our spiritual brothers and sisters. We must look beyond the struggles of this mortal sphere and hope for resolution and a fullness of joy in heaven. 

While the Family Proclamation has not been officially entered into scripture, it hasn't gone away. Prophets today still quote from it in General Conference. It is just as fresh a revelation now as it was almost 30 years ago. In the world today, Satan twists the ideal into something horrid. He plays on our emotions, fears, loneliness, superstitions, and weaknesses. He convinces us that we cannot achieve the Celestial, so it's okay to settle for something less - even if that lesser thing does not bring true and lasting joy. 

The world is falling apart because it does not understand our divine relationships, which begins:

[We] proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. (the Family, a Proclamation to the World)






Saturday, December 11, 2021

Book Review: The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology

 Book Review: The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology, by Joseph M Spencer (2 volumes)

 The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology, Volume One

Most older Christian religions have a systematic belief system. Because it is a rather young Christian Church and it strongly believes in continuing revelation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have a systematic belief system. While a few Latter-day Saints have attempted to provide theories on various concepts, even suggesting tentative systems for us to use, the Church largely has few actual core doctrines. Many of the things we believe in the Church are theoretical, ways to better understand the core doctrines. For example, Christ as Savior is a core doctrine. HOW Christ effectuated the atonement is mostly theoretical. There are many theories, both in general Christianity and in the Restored Church on how Christ atoned for our sins.

So, to paraphrase, as Joseph Spencer once noted, Mormon's don't have systematized theology, they do theology. In the introduction to volume 2, Spencer notes that while some worry theology and reason seek to replace revelation, "rightly pursued, theology is reflection on revelation."

For Spencer, when it comes to scripture, and particularly the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saints do not look deeply into the teachings. We tend to teach and learn an inch deep and a mile wide. We also tend to load up lots of personal theory on top of doctrine, often replacing truth with something less. Examples of this would be views for much of Church history on blacks and the priesthood. For some reason, a ban was placed on blacks receiving it. From that basic ban came decades of speculation on why there was a ban, much of it based on faulty reading of scripture. For example, the curse on the Canaanites in the Book of Moses could not apply to black people, because the Canaanites were Semitic - closely related to the Hebrews. Still, the tradition continued even beyond the 1978 revelation on the priesthood  This caused the Church to make an official statement regarding all of the old theories and the racist views behind those beliefs.

As it is, there are many things we believe, or the Church members have believed for many years that just are not taught in scripture, including the Book of Mormon. This is one of the reasons for Spencer's two volume focus on the Book of Mormon.

The books include several of his earlier essays, some previously given in seminars, others unpublished. He gives a generous commentary before each essay to explain the background of the writing and key points he may wish we noted.

The sections and chapters include

Volume 1

Halting First Steps
1. Faith, Hope, and Charity: Alma and Joseph Smith, 3
2. Nephi, Isaiah, and Europe, 15
3. René Girard and Mormon Scripture: A Response, 31
4. Prolegomena to Any Future Study of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, 45
Running toward Theology
5. The Humanist’s Book of Mormon, 65
6. The Book, the Words of the Book: What the Book of Mormon Says about Its Own Coming Forth, 73
7. Toward a New Vision of Apologetics, 91
8. The Structure of the Book of Alma, 105
9. Introducing Comparative Scripture to Mormonism: Preliminary Thoughts, 117
Traditional Theology: Atonement
10. The Time of Sin, 127
11. Resurrection and Grace:
Toward a Nephite Theology of Atonement, 145
12. What Can We Do? Reflections on 2 Nephi 25:23, 171
13. Cross and Shame: Theorizing a Book of Mormon Theme, 187
14. Amulek and Alma: Atonement,
Traditional Theology: Other Themes
15. Typology and Messianism in the (Book of) Mormon Experience, 225
16. Mothers, Daughters, Wives, and Women: Notes on Gender in First Nephi, 235
17. Toward a Nephite Pneumatology, 247
18. The Messianic Body in the Book of Mormon, 259
19. Christ and Krishna: The Visions of Arjuna and the Brother of Jared,

Volume 2

A Prologue of Sorts
1. Toward a Methodology for the Theological Interpretation of the Book of Mormon, 3
Microscopic Theology
2. Weeping for Zion, 19
3. Potent Messianism: Textual, Historical, and Theological Notes on 1 Nephi 1:18–20, 45
4. Seams, Cracks, and Fragments: Notes on the Human Condition, 71
5. As Though, As Though Not: Time, Being, and Negation, 89
6. Law, Grace, Sovereignty in 2 Nephi 2, 113
Macroscopic Theology
7. Mormon Conversion, Christian Conversion: Comparing Conversion Narratives in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, 133
8. The Book of Mormon as Biblical Interpretation: An Approach to LDS Biblical Studies, 143
9. Isaiah 52 in the Book of Mormon: Notes on Isaiah’s Reception History, 167
10. The Book of Mormon’s Use of Isaiah 53, 197
11. “After This Manner Hath the Prophet Written”: Isaiah 48 in the Book of Mormon, 205
12. Biblical Contributions to the Book of Mormon’s Presentation of Gender, 227
Theological Invitations
13. On a Dawning Era for the Book of Mormon, 241
14. The Self-Critical Book of Mormon: Notes on an Emergent Literary Approach, 253
15. A Mormon Reads A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon, 267
16. Notes on Novelty: Regarding Adam Miller’s Rube Goldberg Machines, 277
17. “And It Came to Pass”: A Response to Adam Miller’s “Theoscatology,” 285
18. Sin, 291
An Epilogue of Sorts
19. Mormons, Films, Scriptures, 301

While this anthology focuses on theology, there is some discussion on historical and textual criticism. All of it gets us below the surface and deeply into what the Book of Mormon says on many topics.

Spencer begins by discussing why Nephi copies so much of Isaiah, particularly in 2 Nephi. Spencer explains that Nephi was commanded to write the small plates in order to record the "plain and precious things" of God. 1 Nephi focuses on the early history of the Nephites, and most of 2 Nephi focuses on those plain and precious things. Nephi includes teachings of Isaiah and his brother Jacob (who also quotes Isaiah), because they are the Three Witnesses of the Messiah. Each had seen Christ in vision, and in the mouth of two or three witnesses God establishes his word.

Spencer spends several chapters on these chapters in Nephi, helping us to see many things that are hidden in Isaiah's words, because for most people (including Nephi's people), Isaiah is hard to understand. As Spencer shows, the three Witnesses show that all things lead to the covenant God has with Israel, and the Messiah. Both Nephi and Isaiah focused on the remnant of the Jews (which would include Nephi and his family), who were still under the covenant. We learn what Nephi meant when he explained why Isaiah was hard for many to understand, but that he would "liken" Isaiah's words to the Nephite world and the Lehi Covenant (similar to the Abrahamic Covenant that Isaiah speaks of, with a promise of seed and a promised land for the obedient).

Many of the chapters in the anthology focus on just a few verses in the Book of Mormon.  While I've read the Book of Mormon over 75 times over the past 40 years, Spencer surprised me often with things I had not noticed before. For example, in 1 Nephi 1, we find Lehi has his visions of God on his throne and the Messiah comes down and gives him a book to read. Lehi then is sent to Jerusalem to call the people to repentance. We read:

"And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.

 "And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away...." (1 Ne 1:19-20)

Spencer shows that when Lehi spoke of the people's sins and called them to repent, they laughed and mocked him. However, when he also spoke of the coming Messiah, they became angry and sought to kill him.

As Spencer discussed this concept, I thought of other examples in scripture that reflects this interesting set of reactions. When Stephen (Book of Acts) condemned the people of their sin, they listened quietly. It wasn't until he taught about Jesus as Messiah that the Jews became enraged and stone him to death. The same occurred with Abinadi, who first taught them about the 10 Commandments, but they became enraged when he spoke of the Messiah. Even Nephi calls his own people "stiff necked" because they choose to only follow the Law of Moses, and not embrace the Messiah (2 Nephi 25), which statements caused Laman and Lemuel to seek to slay their younger brother. 

It seems that a systematic list of commandments is easier to deal with than to accept the concept that there really is a Messiah, a Savior of the world. This holds true today, as many traditional Christians accept the Bible, but become angry because Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in his great First Vision. People angrily reject the greatest revelation of all: Jesus Christ in his fullness.

Spencer also discusses at length the concept of "grace" in the Book of Mormon. He shows that the Book of Mormon teaches "saved by grace and judged by works." However, as a severe reaction to Protestant cheap grace, the 20th century Church backed away from the concept of grace and focused on works and obedience instead. In the early 1990s, many LDS scholars sought a better form that included grace. Spencer notes Stephen Robinson's "Believing Christ" as an example of the beginning change in the Church embracing grace. Still, Robinson's view, though better than previous teachings, still fell short. All of these focused on a concept Spencer calls "saved by works and judged by grace." It is based on the concept that we are "saved by grace after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). We work as hard as we can to be obedient, working to save ourselves, and then hope that grace fills in the gaps. This "God of the gaps" was what I was taught when I joined the Church in the 1970s. Yet, as I studied the Book of Mormon, I couldn't find him in there. Spencer explains that "all we can do" is do what Nephi taught in the previous verses: "believe in Christ and be reconciled to God." Nephi's continuing sermon focuses less on works, and mostly on our accepting Christ's grace by embracing the Doctrine of Christ: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism/ordinances/covenants, gift of the Holy Ghost.  Nephi then explains in the same chapter that as we bow ourselves down and worship God with all our heart, might, mind and strength, we are reconciled to God. Only then after we are saved (from physical and spiritual death) are we judged for our works. In this sense, talks over the last 20 years on Becoming (Pres Oaks) and others become understandable. Once saved, we can begin the process of becoming sanctified, or more holy, going from "grace to grace, receiving grace for grace" (D&C 93).


The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology, Volume Two

"Works" does not mean obedience to laws, though that is important. In 2 Nephi 25, Nephi condemns his people as being "stiff necked" because they only seek to obey the Law of Moses, wanting to save themselves by keeping the 10 Commandments and doing animal sacrifice. As Spencer notes, we cannot save ourselves. As with Stephen Robinson's wife in "Believing Christ", we will only experience spiritual and physical burn out. But in following Christ through grace, our desire to obey becomes a joy and a blessing.

One of Spencer's most profound theological concepts is for us to really study scripture. He notes we tend to read the Book of Mormon at a rather steady pace until something catches our eye. Only then do we pause.

"What if we were to begin by pausing, paradoxical as that may wound?"

What if we were to treat every single verse "important in its own way?" And, "what would it look like to act like that (every verse important) is really true?"

Spencer asks us what happens when we slow down. He gives an example. Yearly, the LDS Theological Seminar takes two weeks in the summer to study about 20 verses. This group of scholars inspect and re-inspect every word, term and phrase. Why did the prophet write these words? Why did the prophet use the words he did? What was he truly trying to explain to us? Is there more than one way to understand a verse?

Theology can be hard and can get us into the weeds at times, as you will see occasionally in Spencer's two volume Anthology of Book of Mormon Theology. However, we often find diamonds hiding in the weeds, or a Pearl of Great Price lying deep on the ocean floor. It is only when we are willing to make the greater effort that we can gain a deeper and truer appreciation of ancient prophets. If you hate reading Isaiah, perhaps it is because you haven't done the work to love him.

Speaking of the Fountain of Knowledge and Wisdom (the Pierian Springs), Alexander Pope wrote:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.  
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!

This anthology will help you begin your journey in drinking deeply of the Pierian Springs found in the Book of Mormon. We can choose to continue drinking lightly from the gold plates and occasionally feel happily intoxicated by something that catches our eye, or we can drink deeply and find wisdom in every verse and sentence therein. Spencer will show you how to take a closer look at some important concepts within the Book of Mormon.

Anthology of the Book of Mormon Theology by Joseph M. Spencer is now available at

Greg Kofford Books

   Volume One

    Volume Two

and at Amazon

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Come Follow Me: Articles of Faith, Official Proclamations 1 and 2

 Come Follow Me: Articles of Faith, Official Proclamations 1 and 2

There is a lot of doctrine in this week's writings. Books have been written on them. I won't write a book here, and so will focus on a few points.


Articles of Faith

These were written as part of the Wentworth letter, a newspaper publisher who wanted to know the beliefs of the Church. Joseph wrote down 13 basic tenets of our belief.

1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

 All the gospel builds upon this statement. It is a declaration of faith by the Latter-day Saints. We believe in the three members of the Godhead. While each is a unique individual, they are eternally joined by truth, light and love to each other and their everlasting purpose: to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man: (Moses 1:39)

3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

 The Book of Mormon clarifies this even more. Jacob and Nephi insist we are saved by grace (Christ's atonement and resurrection) after we repent and are reconciled to God (see 2 Ne 25:23). We do not save ourselves. We reconcile ourselves to God through repentance, obedience and receiving covenants/ordinances. However, grace is all encompassing - it was present in the premortal existence, during the Creation, in the teachings of prophets and angels, in the death and resurrection of Christ, and in his current and future ministry to mankind. The concept of reconciliation is reinforced by the next Article of Faith:

4 We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

 Christ offers us grace. It is already given. It is a gift. We only have to receive it in faith, and then gratefully follow Christ in order to retain the gift. We do not obey laws in order to save ourselves. We obey laws because we love Jesus and want to follow him.

Many of the articles discuss the Restoration of the Gospel and its gifts: Revelation, priesthood authority and power, freedom of religion and thought, Zion. All are important themes in the gospel, of which we've studied over the past year in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Official Declaration 1

The Church has long had a love/hate relationship with plural marriage. Begun in secrecy in the 1830s when Joseph Smith married Fanny Alger (which ended shortly afterward), and was expanded in Nauvoo. It came to its heyday in Utah for 40 years. The prophet Joseph saw it differently than polygamy, which he condemned  In fact in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 101 condemned polygamy. The statement read:

Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.

 In 1835, only Joseph had practiced plural marriage. Joseph saw plural marriage as different from polygamy. In polygamy, anyone could take more than one wife. In plural marriage, one could only take additional wives with God's permission through the prophet. Viewing it this way, Joseph and the early saints who knew about it could insist polygamy was not being practiced.

Because of this statement in the original D&C, there are many people in other Latter Day Saint movements who do not believe Joseph practiced plural marriage. Yet, the evidence is very clear it began with Joseph and increased under Brigham Young.

 It wouldn't be until the early 1850s that the Church went public with plural marriage. Rumors floated across the country about it for several years, but finally Brigham was forced to openly teach it. In doing so, the leaders seem to take a big step in promoting their religious belief, almost daring the United States to do something about it, which they did. 

Initially, federal laws were passed that were hard to prove or uphold in the Utah territory. However, in the 1870s, new laws were passed which threatened imprisonment for members living plural marriage and the possible loss of the Church's property (including temples). George Reynolds was arrested, and his case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court on the basis of the First Amendment's religious freedom clause.  In 1879, the SCOTUS determined that the government could pass laws to protect society against bad religious actions.

The Saints under President John Taylor continued for a decade to fight against this law. Many went into hiding. Others moved to Mexico or Canada to escape US government prosecution. It was only when President Wilford Woodruff saw thatLatter-day Saint emigrants were being denied entrance into the United States, that the Church property was about to be taken by force (including the temples), and that the missionary work was greatly impaired, that he received the revelation ending plural marriage.

It wasn't an easy decision. It meant many plural wives would be without a husband, and children without their fathers. Many would fight against it, some breaking off into other polygamous Mormon sects. Even some of the apostles were castigated (and excommunicated) for continuing the practice. 

Joseph F. Smith would proclaim a "second" manifesto on plural marriage in 1904:


Official Statement

“Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have ben entered into contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff, of September 26, 1890, commonly called the Manifesto, which was issued by President Woodruff and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriage violative of the law of the land; I, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and

“I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be deemed in transgression against the Church and will be liable to be dealt with, according to the rules and regulations thereof, and excommunicated therefrom.

Joseph F. Smith,

President of the Church of Jesus Christ

Of Latter-day Saints…”


 The Lord's standard is monogamy, unless he commands otherwise. We also see the importance of following the living prophet, even though a previous prophet may have said something entirely different.

And that concept takes us to Official Declaration 2

Joseph Smith saw all members of the Church as eligible to receive temple and priesthood blessings. He embraced African Americans, including Elijah Abel (ordained an Elder by Joseph Smith in 1836) and others.

The Kirtland Temple allowed entrance by the following:

“old or young, rich or poor, male or female, bond or free, black or white, believer or unbeliever…” (History of the Church 2: 368-69)

However, racism began to creep in even during Joseph's lifetime. Some of the leadership of the Church were not comfortable with the African American members. This became more apparent with the building of the Nauvoo Temple and the sealing of families for eternity.

In 1843, Joseph taught that Blacks have souls and are a product of their environment. He insisted that if they had the same chance as whites, they would be and act the same. From 1844-45, Joseph Ball, a black man, was branch president in Boston.

However, after Joseph's death, problems began to emerge. At Winter Quarters, a black man named William McCary was baptized and received the priesthood. He established a local town of his own, and invited white single sisters of the Church to join him in plural marriage. He was excommunicated. His actions caused much alarm for members who were concerned regarding miscegenation (marriage between people of different races). 

Some members searched the scriptures and found verses that (to them) pointed to an ancient curse on black people. This included verses in the Books of Moses and Abraham regarding Canaanites (who actually were Semitic), the curse of Cain, and the curse on Pharaoh.

Such bad readings of scripture led Brigham Young to establish a ban on priesthood to black people.

From this point, members, including leaders, would develop theories on the priesthood ban: disobedience in the premortal existence, curse of Cain continuing to our day, etc. Some of these theories became equivalent to doctrine for over a century to the Saints, ingrained as strongly as plural marriage was. 

David O. McKay had the priesthood ban researched. No evidence of a revelation regarding the ban could be found. In prayer, he asked the Lord if he could end the ban, and the Lord told him it wasn't time. 

The time would be almost 20 years later, in 1978. President Spencer W Kimball had the ban's history researched by Elder Bruce R. McConkie and others. They could not find a revelation regarding it, either. President Kimball questioned the Twelve over several years on their feelings regarding the ban. Finally, President Kimball gathered his counselors and 11 of the Twelve together to pray about it. The revelation that proceeded convinced all that the time for the ban's end was now.

Elder McConkie noted it as being stronger than a witness of the Son. Elder David B. Haight would talk about the Revelation on the Priesthood many times in General Conference. I was present to listen to him speak at a missionary conference in Bolivia in 1979, and he remarked how revelatory and powerful the witness was.

As for all the theories, Elder McConkie taught that we must forget all the past teachings and theories. They are all wrong in light of the revelation.

Recently, the Church's official statement on "Race and the Priesthood" includes this:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands. ( )

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Free PDF of my 2019 book

 I'm now providing a link to a PDF version of my 2019 book, "Themes, Theories, and Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

Feel free to share it. Let me know if you download/read it, and if you like it,  by sending me a comment here, or via email (email address is on the Dedication Page of the book near the front).


I hope you enjoy it.

Gerald A Smith